THE IMPORTANCE OF CORPORATE WORSHIP
[Break into groups to share, what do you enjoy about Point Community. Share the top 2-3 common ones].
Friends. You see, God designed corporate worship to be an essential not optional part of Christian life and growth. In fact, worship is the ultimate goal of the gospel, not merely salvation. Salvation without worship is NOT Christianity. How can we see that? From the Bible.
The Gospel Story
I’m going to give you a super-brief narrative of the gospel story. God creates humanity to be in relationship with Him. Humanity sin against God and this relationship is broken. God loves humanity and goes on a rescue mission. He chooses one man and makes a covenant (a covenant is like a promise) with him; the man is Abram whom God renames Abraham, and the covenant is known as the Abrahamic Covenant. We find that in Genesis 12:1-3 Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
Throughout the rest of the Bible (from the patriarchs, to the prophets and kings, to when Jesus comes onto the scene – lives the perfect life, died a sinner’s death for our salvation, rises from the dead, ascends to heaven, pours out His Holy Spirit now working in and through the church, to when Jesus returns again)… God is working to bring about the fulfilment of this promise.
The ultimate fulfilment of the Abrahamic Covenant is found in the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation. So for example, we read in Revelation 7:9-10 After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
What God promises to Abram in Genesis 12 (the blessing of all the families of the earth), He fulfils in Revelation 7 (worshippers from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues). The goal of the gospel is to make worshippers of God from all nations. Worship is the ultimate goal of the gospel, not merely salvation.
One further implication from these two passages. We were made to worship Jesus together. That’s what corporate worship is. Together. God didn’t fashion us to enjoy him as individuals only, but as happy members of God’s huge, world-wide, across-history, family. Therefore, one of the chief ways which God uses to shape us for our final destiny where we worship God face-to-face, is our church and Point Community worship services.
Now first paradigm shift I want you all to have is this: when we talk about worship, we often think it’s the part where we sing songs to God. No. The worship service is the entire process (perhaps Pastor Benjamin has taught about this already). Every part of it is worship. The prayers of invocation. The personal prayers and meditation. The singing of songs. The intercession. The preaching of the Word (and listening to the preaching). The tithes and offering. The communion/partaking of the Lord’s Supper. The liturgy. All the people serving (whether as sound crew, projectionists, ushers etc). And finally, the fellowship before or afterwards. Every single element is worship.
Now, I assume that most of us also know that worship is not merely what you do on Saturdays or Sundays in church, but it is your entire life 24/7, from Mondays to Sundays. That’s what we refer to when we talk about having a lifestyle of worship. And I will elaborate on this a little later. But for now I want to focus on the worship service.
The importance of Corporate Worship
i. God delights in corporate worship
God delights to meet us in corporate worship. It’s not that we cannot experience God in personal, individual worship, but there’s something special about worshipping God together. We are the family of God, and God is our heavenly Father. Few things delight Him more than His children gathering together to praise His name and to love one another.
ii. God meets us in a special way in corporate worship
I just returned from my church camp and it was a wonderful 5 days of sitting at the feet of Pastor Christopher Chia and hearing God’s Word ministered to us by one of the most famous preachers in our country. We were challenged to lay down the idols of our lives: money, sex, power… in order to worship God in a manner that pleases Him, and to shine forth as light to our world. But personally, the most special moment during the camp was when God met me during one of the sessions of worship.
I was feeling rather low at that moment, and the lyrics of a song came to me:
O Lord, Your tenderness, melting all my bitterness
O Lord, I receive Your love
O Lord, Your loveliness, changing all my ugliness
O Lord, I receive Your love
At that moment, as I was thinking about that song, the worship team started playing it. Waves upon waves of God’s love washed over me. Washing away the bitterness. Washing away the ugliness. Replacing it with the pure love of God. God was real. He showed up. He healed the hurts of my heart and I was able to release forgiveness to someone.
You see, in corporate worship, you don’t engineer what happens. You don’t always choose the songs being sung, the passage of Scripture being preached. But when it lines up with what you yourself have been reading/singing in your private devotions, God may be affirming that message to you and it’s a very special experience.
iii. God sustains us through corporate worship
In corporate worship, 3 chief means of God’s ongoing grace to us in our Christian walk and life can be experienced there: God’s word, prayer and fellowship. God commands us to meet regularly in corporate worship. Turn with me to Hebrews 10:19-25 “19 Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
[Exercise: Simple Bible study exercise ~ find two repeated phrases in these verses.]
In this passage we find:
Two theological truths – First, we can enter into the presence of God because of the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross (v. 19). Second, we have a great high priest over the house of God (v. 21). What does the house of God refer to? A church building? No. It refers to the people of God. And the implication is clear. We have responsibility for each other.
Three applications (faith, hope, love) – The 3 applications that the writer of the book of Hebrews draws for us as Christians can be summed up in the 3 “Let us” statements found in (v. 22, 23, 24). These 3 statements correspond to the 3 great virtues of the Christian life: faith, hope and love. Let us draw near to God in faith. Let us hold fast to the hope of the gospel. Let us love one another.
One environment – “One another” (v. 24, 25). The ‘one another’ aspect of Christianity is crucial. Do you know that there are over 50 ‘one another’ commands in the New Testament. Most of them are explicit calls to love one another or they involve some aspect of loving one another (being kind, bearing each other’s burdens, seeking peace etc). In other words, there is no Christianity without the aspect of loving one another.
Why is corporate worship so important? From this passage in Hebrews, I want to highlight two reasons. First, let’s look at Hebrews 10:25 “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
All the more as you see the day drawing near. What does this day refer to? The return of Jesus Christ. Or the Second coming of Jesus Christ. What the Bible tells us is that as the days draw near for the return of our Lord and Saviour, there will be Christians who will stop assembling together, stop meeting together, stop attending church. God says, don’t do that! And if you read on in v. 26-39 about the warnings as to the apostasy that follows, it implies that people who deliberately and persistently choose to absent themselves from Christian fellowship in church are in danger of abandoning the Lord himself! It is a very serious warning.
Friends, think about those whom you know who used to attend church and Point Community but are no longer. If they’ve found another church to grow in and serve in, God bless them. But you know as well as I do, there are those who are just not attending church any more. If we care for them as friends, more than that, if we care for their souls, shouldn’t we pray for them? Shouldn’t we love them, care for them, call them, invite them back to fellowship?
So that’s the first reason why corporate worship is important, it’s God’s means to help us keep in the faith. Second, let’s look at Hebrews 10:24 “and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds…”
The two broad ways in which the church of Jesus Christ is to shine forth in the world is in the areas of love and good deeds. This is the mission of the church. The mission of the church is to make worshippers of God from every tribe, people, language, nation. Corporate worship was designed by God for us to motivate, encourage, spur one another towards love and good deeds that will win people to the Lord. So our meeting together is not only for ourselves, but that the love that we cultivate for one another will spill forth into the world in love and good deeds.
Hindrances to Corporate Worship
Many things can hinder corporate worship, I’m going to mention two which I feel is pertinent, important for Point Community fellowship to get right.
Turn with me to Matthew 5:21 “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ 22 “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. 23 “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.
One of Satan’s most devious and successful scheme in destroying fellowship is anger and unforgiveness. A couple of observations from the text in Matthew. First, Jesus sounds a very severe warning about anger. He literally equates anger with murder, and the consequence of anger as hell. Some of you would say, “Pastor, does the Bible say, ‘Be angry, yet do not sin’?” Yes it does. There are ways to be angry and not sin. Godly anger towards injustice for example. But most of the time, our anger is petty anger. It’s about ourselves. We felt rejected by a brother or sister. We felt marginalised. We felt like we didn’t get the recognition we deserved. Etc.
Most of the time, our anger is not justified. And sometimes, it’s because we don’t see the full picture. At my church camp, I was made the 2ic for our coach (bus). On the day of the camp, it seemed that I was the only one doing the shepherding of the people, checking who was on board etc. And it was the same thing on the return journey. I think it was fair to say, I was doing the bulk of the work. I could have chosen to be angry or bitter. But I decided to just serve. It was only later that I discovered that the coach ic was having fever and flu the day before and all throughout the camp. Having learnt that, I was glad to be able to love and serve my brother in Christ. So, in conclusion, don’t get angry easily or quickly.
And when you do, the Bible tells us ‘don’t let the sun go down on your anger’. In other words, don’t keep your anger for long. Let it go, let it go, don’t hold it in anymore… Anger. Bitterness. Unforgiveness. These destroy fellowship. So, second observation from the text. Reconciliation between brothers or sisters in Christ is so important, that God tells us to do that first before coming to worship Him. 23 “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”
For the Jew, the presenting of offering at the altar constitutes their worship to God. And the implication is this: if there is any unresolved conflict between brother-brother, sister-sister, brother-sister in Christ, God desires that we be reconciled first before worshipping Him. This is remarkable! After all, isn’t worship of God our first priority? Why does God say, reconciliation before worship? Because it’s the act of reconciliation and love that IS a part of worship to God!
In a moments time, I want to give us the opportunity to do just that. If there’s a brother or sister with whom there are unresolved conflicts (especially if it’s within Point Community), now is the time to come before God and ask for grace to reconcile. And actually do it. It does not matter if you’re the offender or the offended; what matters is that reconciliation happens. You have to let go of your pride and your ego. Because as long as there’s anger, bitterness and unforgiveness in our midst, guess who’s having the last laugh? Satan.
Go to a brother or sister whom you need to reconcile with, ask forgiveness from. Perhaps you may feel shy, in that case, you could write a note and pass it to the person. Or if the person is not here, send a text message (can we meet to talk, set up an appointment etc). Whatever the Lord leads you to, do it. Before that, would you bow with me in prayer as we ask God to search our hearts and reveal what HE wants us to do.
Let this not be a one-off exercise, but let forgiveness and reconciliation and love be a mark of Point Community.
ii. Personal Unrepentant Sins
This is going to be a long passage, turn to 1 Corinthians 5:1-13. “It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. 2 You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst.
1Cor. 5:3 For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
1Cor. 5:6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? 7 Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
1Cor. 5:9 I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; 10 I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. 11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler — not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13 But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES.”
The context here in 1 Corinthians is Paul is rebuking the Corinthian church for allowing a Christian to get away with gross sexual immorality. Paul says, this believer should have been excommunicated. What is excommunication? Excommunication involves excluding a believer from participating in the sacraments and fellowship of the church. It’s a very severe punishment. Let me say a few things about excommunication.
- It’s meant to be used for unrepentant believers. Wilful, deliberate, continuing sin without any remorse.
- It’s meant to bring about repentance, not destruction. It’s for the welfare and ultimate restoration of the believer.
- It’s not permanent. When there’s repentance, restoration to fellowship follows.
So, why excommunication? At least one reason is, it’s for the health and wellbeing of the body of Christ. 1 Corinthians 5:6, 7 “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? 7 Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened.”
At the Passover each year, the Jews recalled the way God delivered them from bondage in Egypt. ‘One feature of current passover observance was the solemn search for and destruction of all leaven before the festival began (for seven days unleavened bread only might be eaten). This purging out of all leaven was done before the Passover victim was offered in the temple.’ The idea is this: Christian community is based upon the Passover Lamb’s sacrifice (Jesus Christ on the Cross), and therefore demands absolute purity. Clean out the leaven, meaning clean out all moral uncleanness and impurity.
And we do this because just one individual’s unrepentant sin can affect the body of Christ in the local church. Just a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough. Brothers and sisters in Christ, your walk matters. And the health of the church is related to the health of your spiritual walk. so friends, I ask you this day, are there sins you have not repented of? Are there things in your life which you know are displeasing to God but you have refused to forsake them? Let this day be the day you decide to repent. God is pleading, God is convicting, God is speaking. Respond to Him!
The Power of Corporate Worship
Just now we talked about what we ought to do when we gather in corporate worship Hebrews 10:24 “and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds…”
The power of corporate worship is that these two areas are precisely how we are to shine before the watching world and in so doing, win them to the Lord.
John 13:35 “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Matthew 5:16 “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
Love. Good deeds. When this becomes our practice in corporate worship and beyond, then it becomes a very powerful evangelistic tool to draw non-Christians to faith. And this is our theme for the year: to walk in the light and to shine for Jesus. And we do so together.
[San Antonio Spurs tribute video]
San Antonio Spurs just won their 5th NBA championship. What did you pick up from the video? Apart from having excellent players (you have to in order to be NBA champions), they were well coached, they knew their roles and played their roles, they played for each other – team, they didn’t have egos. All this combined? The team is greater than the sum of its parts. A great team.
What does it take for Point Community to be great? Similar to being a great basketball team. Well-coached (listen and obey our Master, our God, our Saviour), we know our roles and we play our roles, we ‘play’ for each other, we don’t have egos. Together, we can make a difference. Together.
A taste of heaven
Have you ever wondered what heaven is like? I suspect that many of our ideas about heaven are not taken from Scripture but from our own imaginations. Now, some of us may have read “Heaven is for Real” or may want to watch the movie based upon the book. The story tells of Colton Burpo, the four-year-old son of Pastor Todd Burpo from Imperial, Nebraska who says he experienced Heaven during emergency surgery.
Are these kinds of stories real? Are the visions accurate? We cannot be sure. We do have to reference our experience with that of Scripture. But the Bible contains surprisingly few details about what heaven (more accurately the new heavens and the new earth) is like. In all of the New Testament while there are glimpses of the ethos (the spirit, the feel, the mood) of the kingdom , it is perhaps only in the book of Revelation that we have some descriptions of the new heavens and the new earth.
But here’s the kicker: here’s the amazing bottom-line as I close. Heaven will be infinitely more spectacular that we could possibly imagine, and the closest thing we can experience of that here on earth, is in corporate worship. The best foretaste of heaven is experiencing God as the gathered church, worshipping Jesus together. That’s what worship ultimately is meant to be: infinite joy in the presence of God with God’s people.